Review by Lunar_Savage
"Enthralling, Subtle, and Mature"
Let me start off by saying that I for one, really enjoyed L.A. Noire. Bought it at a midnight release and haven't regretted my purchase.
The game brings up the ever increasing question of story vs. game play. Many people see the word "game" to describe a product, and immediately begin thinking in a certain mode and attach limitations to the medium. Often times putting the story side of things on the back burner and usually deciding immediately that whatever narrative that will be within the contents of the game are going to be s*** or over the top. I say, this is a very bad way of thinking.
As for story or game play, I think the game play should be the story and vice versa. Which, I've never played Heavy Rain, but the concept really appeals to me (reminded me of Brain Dead 13 back on the Saturn, but most of the alternate paths in that game lead to death xD).
Anyway, L.A. Noire has set some amazing groundwork and made some strides in the story telling department IMO. I'd put it up there with MGS. Even the actual "game play" parts, I found to be fantastic. The chase scenes, whether on foot or in car I felt to be amazingly cinematic, and I was in control of how they went down! I never really thought a game could leave me in control while still retaining a cinematic feel. And in my opinion, that cinematic feel works for L.A. Noire since well...it's supposed to capture the feel of a movie.
Where I felt the game did not go far enough however, is not including consequences for some of your choices and actions. Yes, the way a case plays out and how much information you can wrest out of the clutches of the NPCs and evidence relies on you, allowing you to mix and match case/story development order (which, you can really mess up some cases and not get any information, which leaves you, the player, in the dark on some things entirely, so it sort of in some ways becomes about you trying to understand as much as you can, not Cole) but...in the end, no matter who you arrested, the game just moved on and was overall linear. Now obviously, I feel this was done to preserve the story progression and to keep the player from feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with the difficulty or their inability to solve a case or pay attention to the details. Which ultimately makes L.A. Noire feel like a puzzle game with action bits. And you're forced into thinking like the developers (much like Portal 2 causes you to do). I have no issue with this, but what I'm really hoping for, is that they use this groundwork, and have the sequel include consequences so the game and story can develop more naturally. I'm sure they can do it without sacrificing any aspect of the story telling.
And in that way, I believe the story could become the game. And vice versa.
Now, let me elaborate a bit more on the story side. The game offers 20 hours of solid, rich, and deep storytelling. And they do this in both over the top and subtle ways. But more importantly, there is no real immaturity to be found here in the game. It was designed purposefully for adult audiences. The over the top story telling bits can be found throughout, but none so impressive as the last case of the Traffic Desk. I even found some over the top storytelling in a rather simple, yet highly intriguing case at the end of the homicide desk. Which, up until that point, that case had been mostly puzzle solving and subtle story elements.
As for the subtle storytelling, this is less out of your hands and more in the hands of the developers. Who implemented it successfully in my opinion. They managed to capture the thoughts, ideas, emotions, historical issues, and feeling of the 40s' without being in your face about it at all times. Partly due to the new facial capture technology and also (and more importantly) due to good writing. The first point here would be the music of the radio and various comments of your cynical partners. While you're driving around, you don't get to choose the radio station as you would in GTA, instead, it peacefully plays in the background and serves as a backdrop to the setting and in some ways, because of this, makes the world feel alive and breathing. Like there's more going on than just you and your detective work. Your partners each reflect a certain view point of their own which make them feel like real people. However, they do often react to things in cut scenes with a typical 40s' viewpoint. And you probably won't even find yourself thinking twice about these things on your first or second time through the game because they feel natural.
As for another subtle point, there comes the actions of Cole Phelps. In the beginning, he is played off as the typical American Boyscout. Trying to right wrongs everywhere they occur. As the game and time progresses, Cole slowly develops and you learn more about his past in flashbacks to his time in the war. As the game goes on, you watch Cole turn into something you won't entirely see coming, and his character development really begins to come into play.
Now, as for the rest of the main plot, you work your way through the various desks and slowly you uncover a grand scheme that I won't spoil here for you.
Before I stop droning on and on about the plot, let put it this way for you. If you are willing to pay out anywhere between $10-15 to sit and watch a 90 minute or 2 hour spectacle in a theater and call it fantastic, why would you not then be happy to pay out $60 for a 20 hour piece of entertainment that is supposed to be on par with a movie's quality? Because that, it is. The game is not glitchy and the controls are extremely solid. And even better, it makes you think! From a math stand point alone, the game is offering you more entertainment than a movie ever did.
$10 for 2 hours translates to $100 for 20 hours. And the game offers 20 hours for $60. Pretty damn good deal if you ask me.
Now, to the points some of you are probably eagerly waiting to hear about. The interrogations, clue finding, combat, and driving! xD
I'll start with driving. Suffice to say, the game plays quite naturally with the driving. It feels...right. That's the best thing I can say about it. And even better, if you don't want to drive, you can make your partner do it for instant travel. :) However, there will be times where you have to drive. These are usually chase scenes. Where your partner will lean out the window and try to pop out the suspect's tires while you try to run them off the road or spin them out. These scenes are also highly cinematic, whether you're crashing through lamp posts and benches or hitting the emergency brake so you can take a sharp turn. Sometimes you can even cause the chase to end climatically with you and the suspect pulling a crazy stunt which causes both your cars to wreck and be done for. Or sometimes, random citizens will accidentally help you out as the suspect careens through oncoming traffic or through an intersection and runs headlong into a car that's pulling out into the intersection. Causing the chase to come to an anti-climactic end, which still serves to be rather cinematic IMO. As for citizenry during normal free-roam game play, they act rationally and reasonably. Obeying traffic lights, using turn signals, and even occasionally you might come across a lawbreaker. So in other words, the citizens are normal people and they range in competency of their driving skills. A sign of quality programming on part of the devs in my opinion.
Combat: action packed, thrilling, and...uhm...well...cool. To a point. For starters, it works off the cover system in GTA IV and RDR. It works about as well as those did and is extremely solid. You might sometimes stick to something you didn't mean to, but that's usually user error in my experience. I think only once did I stick to something that was a complete 'wtf?' moment. Now, the reason I say the combat is cool to a point, is because the game completely does not differentiate between disabling shots and lethal shots. Meaning you can't just shoot someone in the leg and bring them down (yet you can shoot them in the arm to temporarily keep them from shooting you, I can't remember if they drop their weapon). However, head shots are still recognized and they are instant death for the enemy. This lack of limb recognition, makes on foot chase sequences a pain in the ass sometimes. During a chase scene, you'll have to either tackle the suspect to the ground, shoot him to death, or aim your gun at him while you chase him and wait for the warning shot meter to fill. Once it's filled, your warning shot goes off and they surrender. However, the third option here can be painful because you have to keep the cursor trained on the suspect until it's full. If a random citizen or car other object pops up in between you or the suspect (whether it's your fault or the game's), the meter will instantly reset. Overall however, the lack of limb shots are highly over lookable in the long run.
Clue finding: A fantastic and huge part of the game. However, this experience is perhaps ruined a little by the default settings. The game will give you music and clue hints (in the form of controller vibrations) to guide you to all the clues of a crime scene. Which can reduce this to little more than walking around the area spamming the A button, even when you turn these hints/clues off. What I recommend doing is turning the music on to play constantly AND turning the vibrations off. After that, instead of spamming the A button, try to investigate a scene naturally. Now, as for why this is so important: Clues offer leads and questions. A clue can give you a lead to your next destination to investigate the case further or a question to ask a potential interviewee. Without the clues, you are not going to uncover much information and can lead to disastrous results with those you interrogate. Meaning you're going to be in the dark about what the Hell is going on in the case. Also, perhaps more importantly, part of the investigating fun is trying to figure out which lead to follow up on next. Sometimes, you can follow a lead too early, which causes you to not have the right pieces of evidence or information from witnesses to use against a suspect. As for questions in interviews, they can be used as testimony to use against suspects as well. But you can't unlock them without the clues. And sometimes, witness testimony can lead to new clues, which offers...more leads! It's all a very nicely woven system with intricate details and really makes it about how much you, the player, can understand about the case at hand. Overall, it really is the part of the game that determines how the case will play out and in what order you experience the story.
And sigh...now I come to the big one. The interrogations. The highlight of the game and perhaps the most touted feature, because it's where you get to really experience the facial capture technology used in the game. This is where the game most feels like Phoenix Wright IMO. Well, that and the clue finding portion. But here we have, much more detail than Phoenix. In Phoenix, you have to carefully read through the text and sometimes pay attention the over the top motions and actions of the character on screen to call them on a lie. And all too often in that game, you even then need to take way too many gigantic leaps of faith (I'm not bashing the game, I love it, but it's the truth) and I think because of that, it gives you multiple chances before you fail. Here in L.A. Noire, the leaps of faith are few and far inbetween, and as a result, you only get one shot to call someone a liar (though, you can back off the accusation if you realize you lack the evidence by pressing the cancel button before presenting the evidence). Everything has a logical conclusion and connection, if you pay attention. This game absolutely demands 100% of your undivided attention. Give anything less, and it will eat you alive. You have to think and put the pieces together for yourself.
Now, as for what I think of the facial capture technology? It's quite simply groundbreaking. You can see almost every little detail in a suspect's face. Their most subtle eye movements, a glance, a gulp, a smirk, anything and everything. These cues can often tell you whether or not they're hiding something. However, these indicators alone are not enough. The facial capture does not work alone, and if it were all we had, it would suck. You must rely on other things as well. The tone of their voice, the situation at hand and the events surrounding it, the context of the conversation, and the state of the person you're talking to (they can be worried, sad, happy, angry, confused, etc.). These things, when combined with the facial cues, makes for an impressive, immersive experience. And I would also like to point out, the game has some of the most amazing voice over work I've ever heard. It actually, in some ways, has ceased to be voice acting and has become full on acting when combined with the facial captures. And every last bit of it, is damn impressive.
If you think they're telling the truth, you can follow up with a reasonable question. If you think they're hiding something, but don't have the evidence to back this up, you can use the doubt option which presses them for more information. Or, if they say something and you know it to be a lie, you can choose "lie" which then lets you sift through your evidence/clues that you found earlier to call them out on it. But remember, you only get 1 chance. So choose carefully (in some rare cases, multiple pieces of evidence can be used to catch a suspect in a lie).
All in all, the game really is about how much you, the player, can uncover. How good of a detective you are and how much you can bring yourself to understand about the world presented. It has little to do with what happens once you do these things, which is a little disappointing but can hopefully be addressed in any future games.
The last points to talk about here can be summed up quickly, I feel. The game world, the sound, the graphics, and replay value.
The game world: Big, but empty. The game world has been created in an obvious pain staking manner. You can tell much research went into developing what you see. The addition of real world studios and locations really helps add to the authenticity. And in general, the city is downright beautiful. However, there is little to do. There are a few gimmicks like "collect 50 gold film reels", "drive all 95 vehicles", etc. But I didn't welcome them in Assassin's Creed 1, and I don't welcome them here really. However, the world is nicely livened up a bit by the addition of 40 random street crimes for you to solve. Most of these you probably won't remember, but there are some that will have you laughing or going, DAMN! Unfortunately, most of the street crimes are repetitive tasks. Only a few choose to break the mold and mimic main story missions. However, these can serve as nice distractions while you're working your way through the main story.
The sound: I've already commented on the voice acting, so 'nuff said there. But as for the music and sound effects, these are well implemented. Volume levels aren't too low or too high and have standard adjusting bars like most games. Sound effects take place when they're supposed to and sound natural. The music, is the shining part of the non-voice acting sound work. All the music will either make you feel like you're really in the 40s, OR, will make you feel like you're smack dab in the middle of a classic noire film. Couldn't ask for anything better really. I find myself wanting to rip the main menu music from the game and listen to it for a long time.
The graphics: Beautiful in general, but the highlights remain strongly on the accuracy of the game world and the facial work. Not much else to say here. Textures are good, no noticeable clipping, and decent draw distances. For the record, shadows being rendered on the 360 aren't as great as their PS3 counterpart, but this is a highly minute detail for most players, and didn't bother me when I was playing. One thing I really enjoyed was the ability to read ledgers and various other writings in the game with almost no effort whatsoever. In fact, the game seemingly (in a subtle way...you're probably sick of that word by now lol), calls attention to this by having you read pieces of paper or books countless times throughout the game. Showing that it can do everything from the smallest details to the largest ones graphically.
Replay value: The worst part of this game is it's replay value. 1 time through, and you won't have much reason to go back and do it again, UNLESS, you really want to try your hand at a case again because you didn't understand it or felt destroyed by it because you couldn't get the right information or bust the suspect on a lie. It tries to offer some in the fact that mixing and matching how a story plays out is kind of fun (will you get to a location in time to fight the bad guys? or will you miss them by mere minutes?). But ultimately, there is only so much information to be uncovered. And the collectibles usually aren't enough reason to play it again unless you're a completionist.
If you're looking for a fantastic story and a solid gaming experience with a very movie like quality to it, this is your game and it's worth every single cent of the $60. If you're looking for a more traditional game, you might just wanna rent it or wait for a price drop. But me personally? I say it's a must own.
There's probably something I'm forgetting to add, but I've written so much, I'm unsure as to what it could be.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/01/11
Game Release: L.A. Noire (US, 05/17/11)
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